Teenagers saved after two days adrift in Atlantic

Three Britons among 64 rescued after tall ship capsized off coast of Brazil
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The Independent US

A British teenager told yesterday how she feared she would die after being shipwrecked off the coast of Brazil along with dozens of students.

Sarah Calascione, 19, was one of three British students who spent almost two days in life rafts after the tall ship they were on capsized in stormy conditions.

It was 30 hours before a spotter plane located the 48 students and teachers, and 16 crew of the sailing ship SV Concordia and another 10 hours before they were picked up by a merchant vessel.

While awaiting rescue the students and crew kept up their spirits by singing and telling stories but there were moments when they feared they were doomed. Ms Calascione, from Kingston-upon-Thames in London, said: "I didn't think we were going to be rescued. It was horrible."

Her mother, Caroline, said the wait for news that her daughter had been rescued after a distress signal was picked up had been "a very harrowing and emotional experience".

William Curry, the ship's captain, said it was a miracle that everyone on board made it into rafts and survived after the three-masted Concordia apparently experienced a weather phenomenon known as a "microburst" – a sudden, violent downdraft of wind – that instantly crippled the vessel last Wednesday. She was able to scramble along with the others to the safety of life rafts when the ship keeled sideways and failed to right itself. She added: "My whole dream disappeared in 15 seconds."

Ms Calascione and other students, including Britons, Nicole Turner, 18, and Gabrilla Haines, 16, had paid up to £25,000 each to take part in what was expected to be a trip of a lifetime but their dreams were destroyed when the vessel went down in bad weather more than 200 miles from the Brazilian coast.

They had been unable to send out a mayday call because the radio equipment was damaged and there was a delay in the authorities picking up the signal put out by a distress beacon.

Most of the students aboard the stricken vessel were from Canada and the rest were from Europe, the US, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies. The vessel had sailed from Recife, Brazil, on 8 February and had been due to reach Montevideo, in Uruguay, on 25 February.

Peter Kent, Canada's minister of state for Foreign Affairs, said there was an "awful lot of joy" in the room when the Canadian students were reunited with their parents.

"It's kind of a blur, but I got through it so that's all that matters," said Olivia Aftergood, one of the rescued students.

Teacher Ruth McArthur said students sang songs and bailed water as they awaited rescue. "One group sang a whole bunch of Disney songs," Ms McArthur said. "I think I was throwing up then so I didn't participate unfortunately."

Elysha Piller later said she was unhappy with the Brazilian navy. She said the captain of their capsized ship was expecting to see a rescue plane by noon on Thursday but said they didn't see one until much later. "We didn't see anything until really late that night," she said.

She said they sang, told stories and bailed water and on Friday relief came in the form of passing merchant vessels.

But the Brazilian navy defended its response after the students were left adrift on the ocean for two nights. The navy deployed a search aircraft about 19 hours after it received a distress signal from the Concordia on Wednesday, which officials said is in line with standard procedure.